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Review: Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition

With an endless supply of customisable weapons, loot and virtual cash, is this post-apocalyptic shooter the most addictive game since World Of Warcraft?

The name ‘Pandora’ seems to appear repeatedly in science and fantasy.
It was used for the name of the alien moon in the 2009 movie Avatar; it’s an asteroid belt somewhere between Mars and Jupiter; it’s also the name of the planet in Borderlands — a new first-person shooter with MMO aspects thrown into the mix. Borderlands has all the explosive shooting action we’ve come to love since the days of Doom 2, but with the weapon and character statistic tinkering usually seen in titles such as World Of Warcraft. It’s a unique blend of genres that produces an entirely original and engaging title.
The game kicks off in the back of a bus as four protagonists travel across an post-apocalyptic landscape in search of a fabled vault. It’s a stylish opening with some clever editing that sets the tone for the rest of the game. After arriving at the small town of Fyrestone, players must choose one of the four characters to play as. The typical ‘brute-force soldier’ character is here, called Brick – ideal for players looking to dish out serious damage. Mordecai is a hunter who specialises in snipers and pistols. Roland is a soldier character who can heal himself and other players, plus deploy turrets. And finally, Lilith is a mage-type character who can enter an alternative dimension to move faster and damage enemies on exit. The choice of character doesn’t impact gameplay to the extent that we hope – there’s no change in storyline and the game follows the same level progression. The choice of character ultimately decides whether players deal damage to enemies from afar or up close. As with most MMO titles, though, it’s also possible to reset the character choice at any point in favour of another.

After stepping off the bus for the first time, players are greeted by a small wheeled robot called Claptrap. Voiced with charm and flair, he introduces the basics of gameplay and gives a brief tour of Fyrestone. This is a hub-style town, where players will encounter various quests from the locals that require a number of enemies to be killed or items to be fetched – typical MMO fare. Along the way, loot can be found from both fallen foes and within the environment, and it’s here that the game shows its true calling. By collecting weapons, money, health vials and spare parts from around the game world, it’s possible to create an endless variety of weapons.

In all, an estimated 17,750,000 variations can be created. To help players decide what weapons to pick up, a small holographic window appears above items, displaying information including weapon type, value, rarity and damage. It’s a much needed assistant, as the landscape can be strewn with items after a hectic battle. It’s not long before players develop their own preference for weapon-types, and it becomes an addictive game of finding specific parts to create the ‘perfect weapon’.
After leaving Fyrestone, the game turns into a massive open-world affair. It’s possible to explore the game at will with a fast-travel system that’s unlocked at later levels. The post-apocalyptic world of Pandora is mind-bogglingly huge, with areas that range from salt flats and canyons to a junkyard city. On paper it sounds all too like the Fallout series, but in practice it’s anything but; Borderlands is rendered with a cel-shaded effect, leaving characters and environments with a black border around them. The texture work, modelling and artwork combine to create a comic-book-style appearance. It works brilliantly, even on lower detail settings, with only one caveat: without any anti-aliasing, the cel-shaded graphics can look jaggy, even when using higher res settings. Those looking to make the most of this title will need a fast machine. We booted it up on a two- year-old MacBook Pro and it struggled to play on anything higher than low/medium settings. The game includes plenty of graphic options, including anisotropic filtering, texture detail, bloom effects and distance blurring. Getting it set up just right for your Mac might take some trial and error.
Being released more than a year after the PC and console versions, the game includes four expansion packs that add some real value (see ‘In detail’ below). The sheer amount of content on offer makes this a worthwhile purchase for any Mac gamer with a speedy system. Borderlands has become a cult hit on PC and console systems since its release, and for good reason – it’s an intriguing and original title that merges the best of first-person shooting with loot-drop RPG and MMO aspects.